Food and Drink, Crete Island
This tip is not about any one particular restaurant but a comment on our experience of several restaurants in the eastern end of Crete ( all in the Prefecture of Lasithi). All of these eating places were popular with the locals and/or Greeks and had very few, if any other, non-Greek tourists. We tried two in Piskachefalo and two in Monastiraki and all of them served excellent, wholesome food of interesting variety - including for veggies, freshness and flavours.
They were all characterised by having lots of small plates of different dishes, some served as appetisers or some as main dishes but all clearly intended to be shared. The Greeks seemed to enjoy eating out in large groups, often in families. Plates were passed around and everyone would help themselves to something as it went around. The service was also pretty quick.
We noticed that in the restaurants catering more clearly for the tourist trade this was not so much the case. Each person ordered their own meal and would be given their own plate of food. Sharing was not encouraged. Much more like western Europe.
Regarding the way to order you would find out from the restaurant owner what was available and you would take your pick that way - there wasn't always a menu to pore over.
For drinks, you could start with an ouzo, followed by a beer or Retsina.
The price actually didn't seem very different from the UK but this was because of the poor exchange rate of GBP to Euro at the moment (Aug 2009). Our meals for 4 with drinks usually came to around 50Euros or less. I always left a tip of about 10% though mainly because we had some excellent meals in these places. I suspect it is the custom to leave a tip. Enjoy eating out Cretan style, we loved it.
I decided to write this tip due to some people complaining about there pizza's in a Restaurant(Blue Sky) in Gouves.Pizzas in Greece are not like the Pizza you get in Italy. They are more like American ones. A bit like cross between a Pizza and a cheese flan with their high sides and cheese fillings. Look on them as something other than a pizza and you will find them very nice.
Around the Morozini fountain in Iraklion here are some very nice looking cafe's some of which specialize in Bougatsa which is a flaky pastry filled with cheese or cream and then drizzled with honey. In the mornings when the first Ferries arrive many people make their way to these cafes’s to get their 'fix' of this delicious delicacy.
These sweet cheese pastries use a rolled dough. They are an Easter tradition on the Greek island of Crete, but eaten at other times as well because they're so delicious! These are my favourite cake there!!!
• For the dough:
• 1/2 cup of olive oil
• 1/2 cup of sugar
• 1/2 cup of plain yogurt
• 2 eggs, beaten with a fork
• 1 teaspoon of baking powder
• 2 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
• 1/4 cup of cognac or brandy
• For the Filling:
• 1 2/3 pounds of fresh soft myzithra cheese (or other unsalted cheese such as ricotta, or farmer's cheese)
• 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
• 1/8 cup of sugar
• 1 egg yolk
• 1 teaspoon of grated orange peel
• 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
• 1 egg, beaten (for glaze)
Prepare the dough
In a bowl, combine the first seven ingredients to make the dough:
• Whisk the dry ingredients together (sugar, baking powder, flour).
• Add the oil, mixing with a spoon or your hands.
• Stir in the yogurt and eggs and mix with spoon until the dough begins to stiffen, adding the cognac to soften the dough as needed.
• On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for approximately 10 minutes until smooth, and set aside to rest.
Prepare the filling
In a separate bowl, mix the cheese, cinnamon, sugar, egg yolk, orange peel, and flour together until well blended.
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Lightly grease a baking sheet.
For each piece
Pull off a piece of dough about the size of a whole walnut. On a floured surface with a rolling pin, roll it out to a circle about 4 inches across. Place a spoonful of the cheese mixture into the center of the circle. Raise the rim of the dough up around the cheese and, with wet fingers, crimp around the edges to pull the dough in around the cheese, leaving the center open so the cheese shows.
Repeat using all the dough and filling. Place the kalitsounia on the baking sheet and brush lightly with beaten egg to glaze. Bake at 350F (180C) for approximately 20 minutes until lightly browned. Allow to cool on the baking sheet. Kalitsounia will keep well, covered, in the refrigerator.
Yield: 30-36 pieces
Even if it says everywhere that tips are included in the price, it is common to give tips if you're satisfied with the service. About 10% would be appropriate. But remember not to "over-tip", something that this little story explains well: Some friends wanted to tip the waiter at the hotel where they had stayed for 2 weeks, so they left 30 Euro the last evening. When they were 10 steps away from their table the waiter stood in front of them saying that they had mistaken the Greek money. They explained that they hadn't. The waiter then joined them in the bar, where they had coffee and Metaxa, and later, drinks and ouzos. When they called the barman for the bill, they found out that the bill, which was much higher than 30 euros, was already paid by the waiter they had tipped before.
Fresh fish in Crete has become rare and quite expensive. Common fish you will find at restaurants are: red mullet, sea bream, red snapper, swordfish and tuna. Octopus, squids, shrimps and mussels are also easy to find and they taste great. Fish like Sand-Smelt or Silverside is quite cheap and tasty, although its taste is described as "fishy" by people who are not used to Mediterranean fish
Cretans are the longest lived people in Europe, and it is hard to know whether this good health comes from their genes, the food, the climate, exercise afforded by living on a steep slope, or the pace of life.
I find Greek food delicious - much of what I enjoy comes from its freshness and flavour.
Dishes you are likely to come across include
Tzatziki: Yoghurt, cucumber, garlic.
Melitzana : an aubergine dip (gorgeous)
Dolmades: stuffed vine leaves
Kalamari : fried squid
Tiropita/Tiropitakia : little filo pastry pies filled with salty feta chees
Spanokopita: the same as above but including spinach
Taramasalata : cod roe pate (fabulous)
Keftedes - little meatballs
Horta : wild greens served luke warm
I particularly like Cretan baked dishes: moussaka is well known, but do try pastitisio - a very comforting dish. 'Yemistes' stuffed vegtables, can also be delicious.
Local wine, served in glass of tin carafes, adds to the flavour of it all. 'Kikkino' red is particularly potent and rich tasting.
When you are treated with a free drink or snack by a Greek restaurant owner/manager, accept it with due respect. Greeks are very hospitable so it would be quite unkind to reject such treatment. Epecially that those drinks are yummy :-)
There was almost always a cover charge for the meals we ate on Crete, something I don't recall seeing on Santorini, Naxos, Aegina, or in Athens. It was typically anywhere from 40 to 80 cents, the idea being, I suppose, that it pays for the bread, water, raki, and dessert (so I guess the raki and dessert aren't really free after all). Many menus list the cover charge, and it's always on the itemized receipt you'll receive after your meal. Just look for "KOYBEP" on it.
Unlike other places I have visited in Greece, it was very common on Crete to receive a small complimentary dessert after a meal. We were most often given halva, ice cream, or fruit, all of which go great with the complimentary raki we also received. In Elos we received fresh cherries that were the best I have ever tasted. In fact, we even brought the seeds home and planted them. With any luck we'll have our own Cretan cherry trees in a few years!
Spincat is a coffee addict, so:
-Greek coffee is great; very strong, tiny cups, at very best a delicious aroma of caramelised flowers! It comes 'gliko' (very sweet) 'metrio' (medium') and 'sketo' (without sugar). If you don't specify that you want greek coffee you could end up with a 'Nes'.
- The 'Nes'. I've somehow convinced myself that coffee is good for me, and part of this is the conviction that only instant coffee is bad for me. Hence, I am wary of the 'Nes' (short for Nescafe) and I avoid!
A very nice drink that is made with 'Nes' , however, is the 'Frappe', popular throughout Greek. At simplest it just involves instant coffee & cold water being shaken together - then served in a glass with a straw and sometimes ice. You can have it 'me gala' (with milk) too and it also comes 'sketo', 'metrio' etc... It is so popular in Crete that in cafe districts the rattle of frappe straws drowns out all other sound.
... I'm getting round to the final point... the Cretan Cappucino. Much as I love Greek coffee I often get an urge for Italian coffee too - 'macchiato ' is my favourite but cappucino is essential at breakfast time. Not a hard drink to make - infact I make it at home & I'm lousy in the kitchen. It is on the menu all over Crete, but what you actually get... and this is really what I love about the independent Cretan spirit... is , for example, nice coffee but with a spiral of cream on the top, (I've even been served a sparkler in the cream); or 'Nes' with cream on top; or weak coffee with a thin film of milk + lots of cinnamon. Even in Rethymnon's most sophisticated cafe, where I thought I'd been served with the perfect cappucino (aroma was perfect and the milk looked thick and frothy ) the milk was freezing cold and yet frothy (how is it possible?)
I hope any Cretan will take this in the spirit it is meant. I might seem to be laughing at the Cretan Cappucino, but really I'm laughing at myself for being such a tourist as to go in search of the unavailable when Greek coffee is so good!
From the the Epicurious Dictionary: "sappy and turpentinelike". I disagree! It's general belief that Retzina is an aquired taste: I agree, it took me one sip to aquire it!
It's a wine - with a special pine-like taste that one will never forget. I think that it was born by mistake from wine shipped in pine-pitch sealed vessels - and the pine flavour remained. One small tip: taste it with some appetizers - like goat cheese or olives or stuffed wine-leaves... it's even better than alone. A bottle costs about 2.50 euros in a restaurant and, normally, it's more than enough for two people. But ask if they have home-made retzina: it's even more delicious.
It's very tipical for cretan cook some particular dish. One of it is fried snails with olive oil and rosemary. One serving costs this year nerly 4 euro. It's very delicious especially with beer :)